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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM
at Studio 54

SONDHEIM SQUARED
By PETER FILICHIA

  (L to E) Erin Mackey, Vanessa Williams, Leslie Kritzer, Barbara Cook/ Ph: Richard Termine

He’s pictured on the logo, sitting comfortably, giving us a bit of a smile, between the big capital “D” in his the second use of his name: Sondheim on Sondheim.
 
What’s interesting, though, is that Stephen Sondheim is not situated dead-center in that “D.” He’s leaning a little to his right. But doesn’t it make sense to situate Sondheim off-center? He’s written at an angle for most of his 53-year career.
 
Here’s the latest celebration of the man who shocked us with Sweeney Todd, amused us in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, educated us in Pacific Overtures, and warmed us with Merrily We Roll Along. Along the way, he’s won seven Tonys for his scores and garnered four more nominations. Frankly, he should get another Tony for this show at Studio 54 – as Best Featured Actor in a Musical.
 
All right, it won’t happen. Sondheim only appears on film or video in this enchanting new revue cooked up by longtime collaborator James Lapine. But he’s so endearing in telling stories about how he works and why some shows went right and some didn’t. Sondheim also takes the time to tell a real howler about Ethel Merman. He delivers it with the style of a great raconteur and the timing of an expert comedian.
 
That musical theater practitioners are rabid to sing Sondheim is certainly apparent here. No other Broadway show has a cast with such disparate backgrounds: the original Marian the Librarian (Barbara Cook), King Triton (Norm Lewis), a Duke of Hazzard (Tom Wopat), a Boy George imitator (Euan Morton), and a former Miss America (Vanessa Williams).
 
This is Cook’s first return to a genuine musical since her heavenly short-lived stint in The Grass Harp nearly 40 years ago. To be frank, she is fragile in the way she moves – she is 82, after all – but the voice is certainly still there. When she’s doing “In Buddy’s Eyes,” “Loving You,” or, of course, “Send in the Clowns,” she never has to reach for notes. They come to her as if they’re pieces of fine steel and she’s the magnet.
 
Cook also gets to duet with Wopat in “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” in which she accuses him of being impossible while he tries to defend himself. The number actually works better in this context than it does in Company, in which it originated. The 1970 landmark musical would have been even better if one of Bobby’s girlfriends put him on the spot this way – instead of simply using the song to introduce Bobby’s three girlfriends.
 
Wopat does less well with “Epiphany” from Sweeney Todd, but it’s too dark a song for this celebratory revue. Having Cook sing “By the Sea” to him would have been better. Another miscue is the creepy “The Gun Song” from Assassins. “Everybody Has the Right to Be Happy” would have been a better choice.
 
But theatergoers will feel both rich and happy when they encounter Williams stealing the show with “Ah, but Underneath” from the London Follies. They’ll cheer Lewis’ galvanic “Being Alive” from Company, not to mention Morton’s purposely frenetic “Franklin Shepard, Inc.” from Merrily. (Matthew Scott plays off him nicely here.) Leslie Kritzer shines in “Now You Know,” Merrily’s paean to wising up to life’s realities. Erin Mackey is funny in the way she reacts while singing “Do I Hear a Waltz,” when the voice of Sondheim interrupts to say he never liked the show.
 
By the way, Sondheim does not just appear on one full movie screen. Beowulf Boritt has designed 35 mini-screens that form a single unit, or spl

 


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